“Self care is never a selfish act – it is simply good stewardship of the only gift I have, the gift I was put on earth to offer to others. Anytime we can listen to true self and give it the care it requires, we do so not only for ourselves but for the many others whose lives we touch.” – Parker J. Palmer, Let Your Life Speak
It’s interesting how often people feel tinges of guilt when they take time for themselves away from what they feel are their “more important” life responsibilities like family, work, church, civic duties. It’s interesting how some people think that devoting time to understanding themselves more deeply, processing their internal issues and responses to various life situations, evaluating themselves is a waste of time or at best “naval gazing” which implies that it’s an activity that produces nothing of value other than a narcissistic endeavor.
Do you ever struggle with those paradigms?
I am by nature a self-reflective person (an NF in the Myers Briggs sorter, a Type 4 in the Enneagram). I get energized by going through the process of understanding my self with increasing clarity. I could be considered by some a self-assessment and personal growth junky. Well, maybe that’s overstating it a bit. But I do put a premium on this process and journey. Does that make me or others like me narcissistic? Hmmm. Depends.
Our use of the word narcissism comes from the Greek mythological figure Narcissus. As the legend goes, Narcissus was a rugged hunter renowned for his beauty. He was exceptionally proud, in that he disdained those who loved him. As a divine punishment, he fell in love with his own reflection in a pool of water, not realizing it was merely his own image. And he wasted away to death, not being able to leave the beauty of his own reflection.
This Greek myth has been immortalized in literature, poetry, art, music, and even psychology. It tends to refer to the negative human obsession with self, to get caught up in self-absorption, to be filled with vanity and pride at the expense of others. Narcissus is never a hero, always a warning.
Psychology has labeled narcissism as one of the personality disorders that some people suffer from. French writer Marie-Henri Beyle (who used the pen name Stendhal), in his novel Le Rouge et le Noir (1830), described the classic narcissist in the character of Mathilde:
“She looks at herself instead of looking at you, and so doesn’t know you. During the two or three little outbursts of passion she has allowed herself in your favor, she has, by a great effort of imagination, seen in you the hero of her dreams, and not yourself as you really are.”
Many of us know people like Mathilde. When we’re around them we never feel truly “seen” or “known” because life is always about them. They seem incapable of moving past themselves to paying attention to others. Narcissism.
But gazing into the pool of your personal reflection (looking into the mirror) is by itself not narcissism. We need to have those authentic, honest times of healthy self reflection. Dr. Parker Palmer refers to this important aspect of self care as “good stewardship of the only gift I have,” the gift of my self to the world. If I’m not willing to spend time caring for my self, understanding my self, helping to bring more wholeness to my self, working to remove negative obstacles to my true self, than I won’t be able to give my best gift of self to the world. I will wound others rather than lift them up. I won’t be able to truly “see” them (like Mathilde) because I’ll be caught up in my own ego with all its insecurities (I admittedly have a lot to work on here). The touch I bring to others will be hurtful rather than helpful. And the world loses out. And so do I.
So what are you doing for your self care? Do you ever feel guilty when you take time for your self? How would you rate your stewardship of self? Do you have an intentional self care plan you’re working this year? How are you showing up in the world these days? Giving your best self? I’d love to hear your thoughts.